Bringing light to darkness sounds good. But using darkness to create light is something out of a manual for wizards. Until now.
Now, it’s an idea out of the pages of a scientific journal.
It starts with a round piece of polystyrene, a thermoplastic polymer made, not by wizards but by America’s petrochemical companies.
In case you’re wondering, polystyrene is made from the petrochemicals benzene and ethylene. And of course, petrochemicals are made by breaking apart molecules of petroleum and natural gas which get turned into chemical building blocks that are found in thousands of products we use daily.
That round piece of plastic is painted black so it looks sort of like a hockey puck, sitting on a dish. At night, when the air cools down, the top side of that “puck” loses heat faster than the bottom side. Add a thermoelectric generator, and you can turn that difference in temperature between top and bottom into electricity. No grid, no transmission towers, no expensive infrastructure needed. No sun needed either. Sorry solar panels.
Now, we’re not necessarily talking megawatts or kilowatts of electricity. We’re talking watts, period. But around the world, close to a BILLION people don’t have any electricity at all so even something that just keeps a light on at night, could be a big deal.
In fact, that’s how this idea got started. University of California Los Angeles Professor Aaswath Raman was on a trip in rural Africa, and didn’t realize he was passing through one particular village at night, until he was already in it (and heard people), because there was no light of any kind.
So what he came up with is a potentially simple, sturdy source of electricity that can bring light to the darkness from the darkness, no magic wand required.